Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther
Addictions permeate our culture, not just in the United States but also globally. What many people might not realize is that Religious Addiction is part of the addiction team also. In her new book, Spiritual Sobriety, author Elizabeth Esther tells her story of being raised in a cultish fundamentalist home in which religious experience was normative and getting high on God was not used humorously but was reality. In this book, Esther not only tells her story but offers some wisdom on recovering from such an addiction and the ways in which one can still believe and have faith in God.
With an army of other believers who have experienced the feeling of connecting with God or activities that gave them such a high, Esther writes, “For me, religion was all – or mostly – about how it made me feel. I wanted to feel close to God, cherished, chosen, special. Maybe you can relate. For many of us, religion also offers a sense of being in control; it becomes a way (we think) to get God to do what we want (3).” She goes on witness to a view of God as a transaction, obedience and commitment for blessing and emotional high. Spiritual addiction for Elizabeth and as for many is an overt dependence on spiritual things to promote a mind-altering state. This kind of experience could be a worship service, a song, daily bible reading, or an interaction with another believer. Often, this kind of experience as more akin to paganism as mentioned by James who says, “The religious practice was very pagan: instead of “If you sacrifice a goat, it will rain,” we had “If you tithe, you’ll have financial success” or “If you avoid public school, your children won’t be tainted (7).”
So what is the way forward in dealing with RA or other addictions? One, “Willing people see themselves in right proportion to their disease and to God. In other words, we first recognize that our addictive behaviors are bigger than our ability to control them, and second, we learn to see God as being bigger than both our disease and us (37).” Secondly, as Esther notes later in the book, a secular addicts group that will work through the issues is another step toward healing and recovery. I was very amazed to find that Elizabeth and others promoted a secular recovery group over a religious one because, in the words of Father Leo Booth, “Separating them into their own track only enables that arrogance and false sense of specialness to flourish and servers to further isolate them (60).”
With a healthy dose of wisdom and a lack of spiritual rancor against God and the church, Elizabeth Esther gets to the heart of the issues surrounding religious addicts. The last few chapters on grace and seeking a paradigm for healthy churches are very good also.
Thanks to Blogging for Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.